Jorma Sarv: if the attention we were given brought in some business agreements, I would be very happyPublished: 14.12.2018

The Estonia 100 international programme began a year and a half ago with the Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union and is now approaching its end. Approximately half a thousand events were held in total all over the world. Looking back, Jorma Sarv reflects on the events and estimates their effect on Estonian future in an interview for the cultural newspaper Sirp.

Jorma Sarv, head of the Estonia 100 International Program

The programme was coordinated and organised by the Government Office who, according to Jorma Sarv, head of the international programme of Estonia 100, has financed over 145 projects; the celebrations also included events organised by other initiators. 

On 19 December, the Estonian Film Museum will host a seminar “The (in)visible Estonia. On international events in the example of the Estonian presidency of the EU and the Estonia 100 international programme”, summarising the experiences.

Here, we will publish the full interview that Jorma Sarv gave to Ott Karulin, previously printed in the cultural newspaper Sirp on 14 December 2018 (Available in Estonian here).

When you choose and implement projects, to what extent do you consider their relation to cultural diplomacy and the development of cultural export?

The international programme strengthened the prerequisites of export quite efficiently and gave us a reason to advance fields of greater export capabilities. But we knew from the beginning that the programme only has a temporary effect. Perhaps it did not act as a full accelerator, but hopefully, it made people more confident.

Cultural export is an operation with a clear purpose of economical gain. Estonian international introductions were hugely not of a business character, although aimed at managing – covering the expenses and not suffering loss. A purely market situation without the inclusion of public funding would not have covered the expenses.

You worked for the Ministry of Culture at the time when creative industries began their advocacy. Now, this seems to be in the past, because people have realised that state-supported cultural export is not beneficial in an economic sense.

Ten years ago, enterprises hoped that offering basic knowledge will immediately be followed by a rapid increase in business, enabling them to start operating with own finances, but this has not taken root. To compete internationally, we must keep up the current pace – for instance, support development centres – but also learn to cooperate, because this is something we have not mastered yet. Regarding, for example, connecting business diplomacy with cultural diplomacy. People are not malicious, and this is not a situation of ignorance, but rather lack of knowledge, maybe even lack of a coordination point, because we are not good at exchanging information.

Jorma Sarv: “As long as we take the internationalisation of culture as a solely cultural issue without integrating it with entrepreneurship and diplomacy, we will remain in a stagnant state.”

We tend to focus on export when domestic markets seem restricted, but considering the state support that allows cultural organisations to manage quite well, we should probably not even assume that cultural export will happen on economic basis.

Money may be one of the reasons. When you think of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, a fully professional collective – performing only in Estonia would probably not earn them sufficient income to manage the organisation. International performances are vital for them. Whereas if you think of architecture, we could not speak of domestic deficiency of employment – constructions are in demand and I have not heard of a need for international orders. However, as for architectural projects within the Estonia 100 international programme, they did not lack passion, because wishing to stay on top not only in Estonia, but also in a wider sense, is culturally characteristic to us. Money is not the only reason, because international performance feeds an artist’s soul with something that they are not able to gain solely from home.

If this is the case, we need financing that corresponds. The principal selling argument for sectoral development centres or the international programme of Estonia 100 is 'Estonia', although economically, we would do well to focus on actions and operators with the greatest export potential whose sales quotations may not even include the factor of origin. Would export potential alone have been plausible for Estonia 100?

This was not the objective for Estonia 100. The purpose of the international programme was to increase Estonia’s visibility through public events and I still believe that we contributed to creating prerequisites of export. We aimed at being seen as a serious and considerable partner. If the attention brought us more business agreements between artists and intermediaries, I would be very happy. Hopefully, the international programme was able to touch two sore points that require modifications in the near future. Firstly, as long as we take the internationalisation of culture as a solely cultural issue without integrating it with entrepreneurship and diplomacy, we will remain in a stagnant state. We must find a common pace with politicians. Secondly, I have great respect for officials who work at Estonian foreign representations, but I have to say that they do not always consider the full effect of exporting our culture to European capitals, for example. We should appreciate and take full advantage of the moments when we are in the centre or near the centre of metropolitan cultural life. We are probably not used to being the centre of attention or the main guests at a party. Take, for example, the award ceremony of the Gramophone magazine in London, where Estonia received two prizes: a lifetime achievement award for Neeme Järvi and a recording of the year prize for the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. They spoke of Estonia so much at the ceremony that, I must admit, I even felt uncomfortable – why so much attention on us? But then I realised that we are worth it, that we have earned these awards.

This question may sound naive, but how many such occasions were there when a metropolis focused solely on Estonia through the international programme and an Estonian business delegation was sent on the spot to make contacts and agreements off of the cultural event?

I have to admit that representative business delegations are not assembled on a prevenient basis with the cultural programme, and neither is the organisation of their travels, schedule, or logistics. Yes, we could name some fortunate coincidences, but not a permanent strategy. To move on, we must use all of our knowledge and financing, because somebody has to be in charge. For example, it is excellent that Estonia 100 is part of the Government Office, because having sat at ministry meetings as an official, I am well aware of the difficulties that small sectors face when they are trying to enforce themselves.

What measures should be applied to maintain the achievements of the international programme?

Firstly, I would assume that people who are responsible for cultural entrepreneurship and foreign affairs, including in sectors where we feel globally most comfortable – education, research, environment protection, the food industry, etc. –, would commonly agree on our further operating in certain countries. This would be a fresh approach in Estonia. Secondly, we must agree on common coordination and the initial budget. If something similar was included in the next coalition agreement and not only on a so-called mapping level, it would be a huge step forward. We already have an impressive network of representations and the international programme enabled us to make some new contacts – people who are familiar with Estonia and our abilities. As international competition is insane, we either put in the effort or be forgotten.

Such agreements would have to be included in cultural policy principles, a document that will soon be updated. You and I were both present when Culture 2020 was signed, and the wish for intersectoral goals and confluences to other policies was discussed there, too. However, Culture 2020 is still focused on the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture before all and includes clauses for all subsectors that, to some extent, relate to general goals. What would have to be changed for Culture 2030 to avoid the same results?

I do not believe in resignation. As long as culture is seen as a thing in itself, nothing will improve in principle. Estonia is very successful right now – people of the cultural sector have a chance to make themselves seen internationally and we are a lot more popular than the probability theory would suggest. This should give us the confidence to acknowledge that culture has a lot of impact and not within just one restricted field. Everything begins with collaborating with sectoral principal strategies and ministers.

Many strategies are currently prepared, for instance Estonia 2035, initiated by the Government Office, although it does not focus much on culture.

Only the Ministry of Culture can begin to lead this discussion, because nobody else will explain the surplus value of culture. Our aim must be to declare the existing intersection clearly. We need to be determined and skilful to describe the existing picture.

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